Q&A with NBC Sports’ Arlo White, Lee Dixon and Rebecca Lowe

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Today a conference call was held with three key figures in NBC Sports’ coverage of the Barclays Premier League, lead announcer Arlo White, commentator Lee Dixon and presenter Rebecca Lowe. The panel were asked a variety of questions from reporters across the nation. Here is a paraphrased sampling of the questions and their responses.

With the title race likely coming down to three clubs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, how would you intrigue the casual fan to watch the Premier League? 

Arlo White: While a limited amount of clubs may challenge at the top there are so many more subplots at play that may interest the causal fan. Finishing in a Champions League spot, a Europa League spot, and avoiding “the dreaded trap door” of relegation all make for exciting storylines. For the American fan I like to ask –  can you imagine what kind of drama would ensue if the New York Yankees had a bad season and were relegated to Triple A?

The competition for soccer broadcast rights has resulted in more soccer on television than ever before. Do you see this as the tipping point for soccer in the U.S.?

Arlo White:  I don’t think it’s ever been this popular in the United States. I spent time here in the ’80s and then again in 1991. I can remember sitting in the home of my relatives outside of Chicago and flipping through what seemed like hundreds of television channels in search of some football. Somewhere in the 300s or something I managed to find a channel showing Manchester United and there I saw a 17 year old Ryan Giggs thrashing a volley into the net against West Ham.

Things have come a long way since then but are we at a tipping point? We’ll have to wait and see. I just know there is a huge following and even if you’re the 6th, 7th or 8th most popular sport, in a country of 350 millions you’re still quite viable.

Who are your predictions to win the league and the scoring title? Also, who do you think will be the signing of the season?

Lee Dixon: It’s simply too tough to call at this point. I think there are 3-4 big transfers that have yet to go down and only when those do will we really have a feel for who can take the title.

Arlo White: It is difficult but I think City will win the league and Wilfried Bony will be the signing of the season. A lot of players have a difficult time adapting to the Premier League but Bony possesses the physical attributes to succeed and comes into England having scored 31 goals in 24 Eredivisie appearances last season.

Rebecca Lowe: So tough to call but I think Chelsea will win the league with City, Spurs and United in that order. I think Roberto Soldado will be the top scorer while West Ham’s Ravel Morrison will be the find of the season. He comes from a great pedigree at Manchester United and is finally coming into his own as a player.

What are the challenges you face trying to connect to American audiences? 

Lee Dixon: The general preparations will be the same. There are challenges for different audiences but the biggest thing is to give respect to the audience. The game is the most important thing and we won’t be dumbing it down. My strength is analytical but I try to convey my analysis as simply as possible. I think the key to is to say what’s in your head and that will translate to all audiences. No matter what country you’re from, the game takes care of itself.

Rebecca Lowe: A lot of the preparation is very similar. For me, there will be the slight difference between how I speak of the game in England and how the people in the U.S. want to hear it. So I need to be very aware of that. The other challenge is to concentrate on 10 games. I came from ESPN UK where we concentrated on just a single match. Most important for me is that I adapt to a new country, system, network and that I engage with the viewer.

What are your thoughts on the Wayne Rooney situation? Will he leave United? 

Lee Dixon: I don’t think he should leave but I think he will. He’s been quiet of late. I don’t see Rooney going abroad so that means he’ll need to be sold to a competitor, which could take the title away from United. If they sell to Chelsea it will be a huge double blow, not only losing him but losing him to a title competitor as well.

Arlo White: We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a game of cat and mouse, once one player goes then there’s money injected into the transfer market and they all go. At the end of the day, however, players generally get their wish.

Rebecca Lowe: It’s probably not even his decision to make but I don’t see how Moyes can let Rooney go. It’s hard enough for Moyes in his first year at Old Trafford, I just don’t know how United can put their manager in that position. If they do sell Rooney and end up finishing second Moyes will be left angry but it won’t be his problem.

Wenger gives update on Ozil, Wilshere situation

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Arsene Wenger has given some intriguing updates on Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil, who are both out of contract at Arsenal on July 1, 2018.

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Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s clash against Newcastle United on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), Wenger confirmed that there has been no interest from Manchester United in Ozil and contract talks will begin with Wilshere soon.

“We have never been approached by Man United in any way, so I don’t see why that came up and who found that, that’s always something that’s been created,” Wenger said of Ozil, before adding that the German playmaker will definitely stay until the end of the season.

Reports had been rife that Ozil would be the subject of a transfer bid from Manchester United in January, with Jose Mourinho eager to link up with Ozil once again after they worked together at Real Madrid. Ozil seems happy enough at Arsenal but the 29-year-old still hasn’t signed a new deal and time is ticking.

As for Wilshere (who started his first Premier League game for Arsenal in 577 days at West Ham on Wednesday) and his future at Arsenal, Wenger stated that contract talks will begin soon with the academy product who has suffered mightily with injuries over the past few years.

“I will talk to him. I said [I would] at the end of December,” Wenger said. “We are at the beginning of December so it’s true that it’s not far, but I wanted to see, as well, how much he can contribute and how he will last physically. It is, of course, for him to be happy to be here as well, that is important. I consider him as an Arsenal man and, for him, it’s important as well to feel happy here.”

Wenger added that Wilshere has done his chances of getting a new deal no harm at all and the Arsenal academy product has certainly impressed with his performances in the Europa League this season, and in flashes when he’s played in the PL.

Whether or not Wilshere, Ozil and, of course, Alexis Sanchez, will sign new deals in January and forfeit the chance to grab a huge signing-on fee in July when they’re free agents remains to be seen. It is unlikely Ozil and Sanchez will pass on that opportunity to test the open market.

However, Wilshere signing a new deal seems the most likely and it seems increasingly likely that Ozil and Sanchez will stay at Arsenal until the end of the season unless monster transfer offers arrive in January.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 18

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.